Chapter 11: Reluctant Dragon Knight
-Opera, town of Salva
The bar in Salva was busy, something that made Opera hopeful. There were the miners, either celebrating or despairing the reopening of the mine after some incident with a dragon. There were also fighting men, travelers who had come to defeat the dragon but had failed. Of the groups, it was the latter that she mostly talked to. It was rough, though. "Why don't you give up on that guy, eh?" one wanderer asked with a rakish grin. "You come hang out with me, I'll treat you better."
Smiling dangerously, she took the hand of the guy, then twisted it about and pinned it to the table. "I don't think so, my good man. And you won't be trying to force me into anything, right?"
He paled. "Uh-ah, n-no m'am. L-let me go, please?"
"Maybe." She leaned over. "So have you seen a man with three eyes?"
Shaking his head, he gripped his arm with his free hand. "N-no, I haven't. What is that about anyhow?"
"It's a magic side-effect." Then she let him go. "Hmph, one would think a traveler like you would have better information." She started for the stairs.
"Er, um, you might try the guy who beat the dragons?" the guy said desperately. "H-he must be well traveled too."
"Could be. Is he around?"
"He's, um," he pointed down to the bar. "He's the guy with the dragons. I just heard about it from some other guys. He, uh, mostly defeated them, we guess, since they're not in the mine anymore."
"Mostly defeated? Well all right." Opera went down the stairs and to the bar.
At the bar, she found a young man who looked like he'd had a bit much already. He wore a black coat over his armor and a violet scarf around his neck. And attached to his upper back near the shoulders were a pair of dragon heads. There was a lavender one with a spiky frill that was apparently sleeping on the swordsman's head. The red one with the flame frill was nodding along to the music of a nearby piano player. Although she'd think he and the other patrons would be celebrating after defeating a dragon, he had his head in his hands and everyone was keeping clear of him.
Ignoring that, Opera sat on the stool next to him. "So you defeated the mine dragon, huh?"
"Leave me alone," he muttered.
"Why? It's a thing to be proud of, defeating something like a dragon."
"Not like I did," he grumbled, finally putting his hands down to take another drink of his beer.
The barkeeper came over, so Opera waved him down. "Excuse me, but could I get a mug? Preferably something stronger than that number 3 draft I had. That was weak."
"Weak?" one of the others at the bar said.
"If you say so," the barkeeper said, peeved that she would call his beers weak. He took a glass mug and filled it with dark colored beer from another barrel. "There, the Night Shift beer. It'll hit you before you get halfway through that."
"Right," she said sarcastically. What they didn't know was that as a Tetragenes, alcohol didn't affect her system the way it did theirs. She took a drink of it. "That's more decent. Now you," she turned back to the swordsman.
"Ashton," he said reluctantly.
"Right, Ashton. I'm Opera. You look like a traveler."
"Yeah, so what of it?" He looked over at her, then blinked. "Hey you… look like somebody."
"Do I? I'm looking for my boyfriend, Ernest. Have you seen a blond haired man with three eyes around?"
"Right, yeah, that Ernest guy… you from the same village? Cause of that three eye heraldry thing." He waved his hand in front of his forehead.
"You know him?" She grabbed his arm before she thought twice of it. Finally, a break! "Where is he? Is he here? When did you see him last?"
Ashton jerked back, startling the lavender dragon head awake. It blinked blearily at her. "Ow, hey! Man, you've got a grip Opera."
"Oh, sorry." She let him go, then took another drink of her beer. "But Ernest? Where is he?"
"He's, ah…" his two eyes blanked. "Good question."
Opera gripped her mug. That was always the problem with interviewing alien beings who were drunk. Just be patient, she reminded herself. He's more likely to talk about it now. "Right. So when did you see him last?"
"It was…" he counted on his fingers, looking up at the roof. "Um… about a week ago. He left our group cause he was going somewhere to… go somewhere, or something. He came with us to the Lagauss Mountains to look for some herbs." As his thoughts moved on, his eyes got downcast and upset again. "Dammit."
"Are there any ruins around here?" she asked, trying to encourage his memory. "He would be there."
"Yeah, cause he said he was an arcadol-something…"
"Right, that. There aren't any ruins in Lasguss." He seemed to be distracted again.
Opera took another drink, trying to figure out how to get the information out of this guy. As she was formulating another question, a young pair entered the bar and came over to them. "There you are, Ashton," the girl said. "Are you all right?"
"What the hell do you think?" he responded, slamming his fist down. "Things were finally starting to be decent and I had to screw everything up by accepting that demon bird's offer. I was supposed to be striving to follow holy ways and now I'm possessed by a demonic power so strong that a holy charm burns my skin! I'm a freak now, a disgrace to Eluria."
"Eluria?" the young man asked, part interested, but part worried about Ashton.
"All because I ran away from the Sorcery Globe," he said, shaking his head. "I never deserved to be a knight. That's why the sign came…"
"You should come back to the inn for the night," the girl said, kindly taking his arm. "Excuse me barkeeper, but can we get a glass of purified water?"
"Sure thing," he said, soon bringing over a water glass. "He hasn't paid his tab yet."
"I'll take care of that," Opera said. She drank the last of her beer, then put down one of her gold bracelets. It had a row of small synthetic diamonds around it. In fact, it was all synthetic and quite cheap on her homeworld. "Will that do?"
His jaw dropped a bit, then he took the bracelet. "Y-yes, that'll cover it nicely. Take care of him now." He then went back to put it in a safe place, away from the other patrons.
"You should just ditch me," Ashton said, although he went grudgingly.
"Don't worry about it," the girl said. "And thanks, m'am."
"No problem," Opera said, leaving the bar with them. "I think he knows something about someone I'm looking for, but I'd better wait until his mind clears up."
The three of them got Ashton to the inn and eventually to sleep. Rena said she was tired, so she went on to bed. Excusing herself, Opera went downstairs to rent another room. But the man Claude followed her down. "Excuse me, but Opera? Can we talk outside for a while?"
"Sure," she said. Once she got her key, she thanked the innkeeper and left with him. "Such an oddly named place. The Hopping Penguin?"
"Yeah, I had that reaction too," Claude said. After glancing around, he spoke quieter. "So what's a Tetragenes like you doing on Expel?"
Smiling, she replied. "So you know the truth? It's not so easy for me to hide. Where are you from?"
"Earth, but I was on a survey mission on Milocina when I triggered some unknown device. It somehow transported me all the way out here with only what I was carrying at the time. And you?"
She put her hand to her chin. "Oh, you're lost too? I came here after my boyfriend, Ernest. He's an archeology professor at Scelida University; I teach history theory. He went missing on this planet some six months ago. But when I came, my ship encountered some problems and I have to use the emergency capsule to get out alive."
Claude was disappointed. "You're stranded too. This isn't good."
"Now don't give up just yet," Opera said, patting his shoulder. "Ernest is a good man, but still… sometimes he drives me nuts. I feel that he got wrapped up in researching one ruin or another and hasn't thought to come back home. Anyhow, he may have a working ship somewhere. That is, once I find him."
"That fellow Ashton seems to know Ernest. At least he remembers the excuse that he and I give whenever we're on low technology planets like this. We can find Ernest and drop you back off at your ship. I assume you were with the Pangalactic fleet?"
He nodded. "Right." He tugged at his jacket. "I just got some local clothes to fit in better. That might help you too."
She laughed, thinking of her black gown with the split skirt. "I know. I would have fixed up a better outfit than this, but it was an emergency landing. There wasn't time for that. At least I got my gun altered." She patted it.
"But why would you both come to an underdeveloped planet like this with that kind of technology? Doesn't that break the UP3 laws?"
She waved her finger in the air. "Nu-huh. We don't break the UP3. Bend it, yes, but we do everything we can not to break it. Besides, the Federation has almost no information on this planet. They'll pay us a good amount for a personal study so long as we can prove no laws were broken."
"I guess." He ran his hand through his hair and sighed.
"Why don't we take a short walk if you're not tired?" Opera suggested. "You look like you could use a free talk with someone not of this world."
He laughed some. "I guess. Yeah, thank you." They headed south, just outside of town.
"So you got here via a strange teleporting device," Opera started with.
"Right. I was with my father's ship, the Calnus."
"Wait, so you're the son of Commodore Kenni?"
"Yeah, I am," he said, seeming sheepish about it. He must have realized it because he said, "I mean, I love my dad and I'm proud of him, but… it was always tough for me. Few people took me seriously. They thought I'd advanced through the ranks simply because of my family connection. I worked hard for it, though."
"That is tough. I know how it is, being part of the Vectra family."
He gave her a knowing look. "The Tetragenes business empire? Yeah, it's not easy living with famous parents."
"Especially when they want you to follow in their footsteps, picking up the family legacy and all. But it's your story tonight, not mine."
With a chuckle, he let her know that she'd gotten that right on target. "Anyhow, I ended up in a forest south of here, Shingo Forest. I had no clue where I was; Milocina was practically barren, without a thick forested area like that. Then I saw Rena, and a big gorilla monster that was stalking her. I ended up fighting it with my phase gun. I shouldn't have, but I had just been given that weapon and was told to use it in a dangerous situation like that so…"
"It was an emergency," Opera reassured him. "That's bending the laws."
"I hope so. She took me into Arlia, which is her hometown. At first, I just tried talking to the villagers but…. Well I don't have any training in dealing with underdeveloped civilizations. I had a hard time coming up with a common ground and I can't even read here. And then Argis, the mayor of Arlia, tells me that they think I'm the Warrior, some legendary hero that's supposed to save Expel from a worldwide crisis."
"Oh dear," she said, with a slight smile. "Sometimes you think that that kind of attention would be a great thing, but when you're in the thick of it, it can be hard to deal with."
He nodded. "Yeah, especially when I knew absolutely nothing about this legend or even this world. I tried explaining myself without coming outright and saying that I was from another world. I don't think I did very well, but I did get them to drop the Warrior issue. The people of Arlia were kind to me, though without helpful information. I started coming to other places to try and find any clues. My communicator never gets a response and it seemed like I was truly stuck here. But then another incident came up, in this town actually, where the issue of me being the Warrior came up again…" he shrugged. "I hadn't changed my clothes from my Federation uniform, so that was part of the problem."
"Did you ever shake that title?"
"No. Rumors got spread too far. At least I'm not being swamped by people begging me to save this world. At any rate, Argis also told me of the Sorcery Globe. Have you heard about it?"
She shook her head. "Can't say that I have. I haven't been here as long as you."
"I see. Well about five or six months ago, this strange meteorite fell onto the capitol of another kingdom, Eluria. Everyone thought it was just a strange and tragic thing, but then the kingdom of Eluria found itself fending off hordes of violent demons. The way he said it, and this incident with the demon dragon of Salva Drift, makes me think that they have native demons here that aren't always violent. Anyhow, animals and then people also became violent and turned into demons. The land was torn apart by earthquakes, storms, and the like. It seems that Eluria was almost completely destroyed by the demons."
"Huh. And so they think that the meteorite is the source of these demons?"
"Right. They call it the Sorcery Globe for that reason. It was just restricted to Eluria at first, but such things have spread to here on the Cross continent, and the neighboring continent of Lacour. I saw a thriving port city be destroyed in less than half an hour by winds, quakes, and waves. And the demons they have here are quite dangerous. Two people that I know of have turned mad. Of course, both of those were related to a strange mineral called an Energy Stone."
"That's a rather simplistic name."
"I know. Apparently it's native to Expel, but very dangerous if unprocessed. Prolonged exposure causes delusions of power and magnification of any emotions. Primarily negative ones such as vanity and jealousy. It glows bright green, but if the stone can be broken and made not to glow, it stops affecting the person. Or can kill them, if they've been around it too long."
Opera thought about it. "Huh. Sounds like a radioactive material. It could be a runelogical mineral as well, affecting these people and animals by magic."
"Right." He paused, then said, "Sorry about getting sidetracked there. The end result of all this information I've learned made me wonder about this Sorcery Globe. Rena and I plan on going to Eluria to check it out. Which is why we'd like Ashton's help, if he's native to that country. He might know better information than what we've gotten thus far. That is, if he's willing to talk about it."
"I see. That is interesting. The Federation will want to know of this material. Plus, if that meteorite is causing problems, it should be recorded."
"So as much as I'd like to get home, I still want to see this Sorcery Globe in Eluria."
Opera smiled. "That's fine, Claude. I think if we told Ernest, he wouldn't let us leave without an investigation of it. Well, if both of us need Ashton's help, and eventually a way off the planet, it might help if we stuck together."
He smiled back. "Yeah, it would. But let's wait until tomorrow when we can discuss it with Rena and Ashton. We
still have to know if he wants to join us and if it's okay for you to come too."
-chat room, 4D
Theo: Are you kidding me? That's freaking awesome!
Ashe: Yeah, well you try having all your hard work on a challenge play go down the drain because some crazy bird decides to make your character possessed by a pair of dragons. (sigh)
C.J.: Not to mention that it made him upset enough that he went out and got drunk about it. Is he still asleep?
Ashe: Lemme check.
Ashe: Yup, still out like a light.
Ashe: His magic and skills are all shot to hell along with the elemental change, so he's down to three special moves, from twenty. (winces)
Theo: That is bad. What's he got left?
Ashe: Twin Stab, Cross Slash, and Leaf Slash. And the last one has a negative modifier until he gets used to the elemental shift.
Theo: That's like a novice dueler's moveset, right?
Theo: But still, you have dragons now! Some players will give their characters massive handicaps in order to have a dragon pet or partner. And others even play those awful hybrids just to be dragon like.
C.J.: But it's back to the old grind, huh? To get Ashton back to his old level.
Ashe: Right, and to overcome that mental block that keeps him from using Sword Dance. This ain't gonna help that.
Ashe: I suppose it could be neat, and some of the fire and ice type heraldic dueling moves are really sweet looking.
C.J.: That they are. I saw some videos for them a while back. Still, I like my Explosions (giggles).
Ashe: Oh, and do you know who plays Claude and Rena? Claude's got a good player, but Rena seems like a hacker's work.
C.J.: Sometimes I think they're both hacked characters. But no, I don't know. Celine's been hanging around them for several days now, but I've not heard a peep out of their players.
Theo: Maybe they're NPCs?
C.J.: I doubt that.
Ashe: How many NPCs do you know of that would fight with their non-dominant left hand because their right is in a sling? And wear his shield funny to protect that injured arm? And still kick a teleporting monster's ass?
Theo: Whoa… that's hardcore, even for a player.
-Ashton, town of Salva
I don't want to wake up.
Ashton tried to keep his eyes closed, but the light was still there. His mouth was dry and his head throbbed. Gah… he didn't drink often, as they discouraged that kind of thing among the Elurian knights. But yesterday seemed to have deserved it. Now if only he'd managed to get one of the other fighting men mad enough at him to end this whole problem…
"This should be better for traveling," a woman's voice said.
"It looks nice on you," another female said, more girl-ish.
"Not exactly high class fashion, but yes, practical," a third female said.
He opened his eyes; the brightness of the sunlight caused him to wince. Okay, Ashton thought, what happened last night to put me in an inn room with three women? He couldn't remember clearly.
That would be ******* awesome if you could remember it!
We got drunk and went to sleep, none of that nasty business.
Aw hell. That ***** bird could have put us with a more interesting person.
Ashton got up and rubbed his eyes. There was a glass of water by his bedside, so he got a drink of that. On looking around, it was a typical inn room of a wooden building. A screen with a bamboo print prevented him from seeing the rest of the room. But a young man with blond hair… Claude… came over. "Good, you're awake. How're you feeling?"
"Awful," he grumbled. "But to be expected. I should not have done that." He rubbed his forehead.
"I'll go tell the innkeeper to make your breakfast," one of the women said. The door opened, then shut again.
They talked for a little while. Claude was a nice guy and didn't make Ashton feel much worse about yesterday. After a bit, a Cross knight named Kevin joined them. It seemed they were going to head for Cross Castle, but wanted to make sure he was okay. And to offer him a ride along with them. He agreed to that. These people seemed to accept him for now, so he'd at least have a few hours to think on what he wanted to do.
After he ate his breakfast and cleaned up some, the group left Salva in a horse-drawn wagon. Along with Rena, Claude, and Kevin, there was a sorceress named Celine and a three-eyed woman named Opera. Opera had long blond hair with a feathered clip above her right ear. She wore a white turtleneck with a gold necklace, the pendant being a mottled orange and brown stone, along with a long loose red skirt. After a while, Ashton recalled talking to her about Ernest last night.
"Oh, Opera?" Ashton spoke up in a quiet moment. "We were talking about Ernest last night…"
"Yes, we were," she said, quickly looking to him.
"I still don't remember exactly where he was going. He only mentioned it as he was leaving us. But I think he meant to go by Mountain Palace."
"Mountain Palace, huh?" She seemed oddly unaware of it.
"It's an old underground complex that the royalty of Cross used to inhabit during times of war," Kevin explained. "It lies in the mountain that holds Lake Col. When uninhabited by people, it has a tendency to become overrun with monsters. The knights often train there."
"I see." She looked thoughtful.
"Actually, it might not be a bad idea for you both to visit," Kevin said to Claude and Rena. "It's a good place to train yourself in battle and if you intend on investigating the Sorcery Globe and Eluria, you'd best be confident and prepared."
"I've been thinking that myself," Claude said. "Vermillion said that someone in Eluria gave him powers to connect to his Energy Stone. So whatever is there now must be stronger than him."
Eluria. Ashton looked down at his feet. Was that why they had offered to take him to the castle? He might have slipped something last night. But then there was what XINE had told him on the mountaintop, that he would never be satisfied with anything until he overcame himself. Maybe he had to go back to Eluria to do that. Could he do that, though?
Then he looked back to the people traveling with him. They were nice people, as far as he could tell. Claude and Rena had apologized for distracting him without hesitation. And then they had paid for putting him up in the inn, while Opera over there had paid for his bar tab. They were trying to help him out when he was on a bad turn. He needed to be more like them. Maybe it would help.
"So you two are going to Eluria?" Ashton asked.
Rena nodded. "Yes, to investigate the Sorcery Globe. We were going to leave from Clik, but then it got destroyed in a matter of minutes. It seems to have been caused by the demons in Eluria."
"Really? I had heard that it had been destroyed in a freak catastrophe, but not that it had been a demon."
"It was this strange metal man who floated in the air," Celine said. "He spoke in a horrid voice and said they were stopping all ships from Cross, more or less because they were bored. Only demons could be so terrible."
"Really. Would you mind if I come with you? I mean, I have a lot of ground to cover to get used to fighting with these guys hanging on," he pointed to the red dragon, "but I'm not really doing anything else… might as well be doing something useful."
Rena smiled. "Sure, it'll be great to have you along, Ashton."
"Yeah, you were fighting really well back in Salva Drift," Claude added.
"Not as well as I could," he said bashfully, rubbing his hands together. "Thanks."
The blue haired girl leaned forward. "Oh, and your dragons… do they have names?"
Ashton was puzzled. "Huh? Names?"
Nope, can't think of any we have.
There's some rather colorful ones some *********** came up with…
No proper names.
He shook his head. "No, they don't."
"Can I name them, then? They are fellow travelers, so they ought to have names."
"Um, well I don't see why not hey don't go stealing my voice!"
"You're going to name the dragons?" Kevin asked, looked at her as if she were odd.
"Well they are cute," Rena said. She pointed to the red one. "This one's cute with his popping out eyes." Then she pointed to the lavender one. "And this one's cute with his weepy eyes."
"I don't think that's the issue here," Ashton said, trying not to sound too nervous. Why was he nervous?
Cause I'm nervous. I've never had a name before.
Names are ******* useless.
After a moment of thought, Rena brightened. "I know. The one with the popping out eyes will be Gyoro, and the one with the weepy eyes will be Ururun."
"That's interesting," Claude said, although his tone said he wasn't too certain about it.
The one that she'd named Gyoro barked and the one she'd named Ururun made a humming sound. Ururun said Hey, I like it.
In contrast, Gyoro said, Why the hell do we get different names? We're the same **** dragon.
Well they see different heads and we've always been a bit uniq… ooo, BARREL! Ururun turned around to look at a trade wagon passing by theirs.
Well at least I got the manly name.
'Is it manly?' Ashton looked over to Rena. "They seem to be okay with those names."
She smiled. "Oh good."
"Excuse me," Opera said, "But may I travel with you as well? If you mean to go to Mountain Palace, I intend to go there anyways to look for Ernest. Even if I don't find him there, it's safer to be traveling with a group."
"That could be good," Rena said with a smile. "We'll have a good traveling party then. What do you two think?"
"It helps everybody, so why not?" Ashton said.
"Sounds like a plan to me," Claude added.
Kevin chuckled. "That's great for you. I have to stay at the castle, but I'll talk to my superior and get you all permission to enter that place."
For himself, Ashton felt glad. He never had liked traveling alone. Plus, knowing that a healer like Rena was nearby would help with his retraining, to get used to fighting with the two dragons.
-Celine, Cross Castle lobby
Celine and Kevin walked into Cross Castle. "I suppose you'll have to be getting used to this place as your home now," the knight said.
She nodded. Looking around at the grand staircases, the candle chandelier, the expensive statues… "It is nice. But yes, it will take some time to get used to the idea."
"Celine!" Chris walked down the stairs, smiling. He greeted her with a hug. His father and a few other guards came down behind him. "It's good to see you again. I heard about Clik; were you injured?"
She shook her head. "No. A lot of things happened while getting everything done. We're fine."
"How are things?" the King asked, looking to Kevin.
Saluting, the knight replied, "Good, your majesty. She's not like the noblewomen around here, but I think it will be a good thing. She certainly won't stand by passively while events unfold. The people should like her."
"Kevin?" Celine asked, moving aside, but taking Chris' hand.
"Sorry, my lady," Kevin said, "but the King asked me to watch you and see how you were in everyday affairs. But you've shown me no reason to use against this marriage."
"We are glad that he has found someone to be happy with," the King said. "But there are many more things to consider. The Lacour family seems to be all right with this so far, but we still must talk personally with them."
If there was nothing to argue against the marriage, then Celine was happy with it. "I understand, Kevin. You're a good knight, and man."
So we get a view on Claude's side of the story. I feel the beginning of SO2 is one of the weaker areas. Part of it is just how long it takes to get through all the dialogue, but part of it is how the reasoning for sending Claude and Rena after the Sorcery Globe is. The SG and Claude appear out of nowhere, so they must be connected, and the SG and the strange green rock Alen had both drive people crazy, so that much be connected. Illogical much? But I suppose if church and faith are strong enough, then it would be reason enough for the Expellians to believe it to be so. And Claude figures he can't do much anyhow, so might as well do something useful.
Eh, the story's much less of a draw than the gameplay (which is addictive and fun). And I like tackling weird stories for rewrites, so all's fine by me.
I've found that even people who haven't played much of SO2 might still know about Ashton's fixation on barrels. Probably because it's one of the stranger characteristics in the gaming world. I shifted it to Ururun for now. But don't worry; after a while, you might become interested in barrels too by listening to that dragon.
You know, on my recent playthrough, I've noticed something really weird. People on Expel talk and talk about earthquakes happening. Arlia supposedly had quite a few, at least minor tremors. But when you poke around in people's homes, you'll see vases and plates on displays, stuff that should have gotten broken in quakes. Maybe they know special heraldry for fixing stuff?